With demand for their meat, milk and fiber growing, sheep and goats offer an appealingly solid return on investment, particularly for beginning, small-scale and limited-resource farmers. But there is a lot to learn, so success can be a challenge. "Information is power. You can make a lot of mistakes if you don't understand small ruminants," says Linda Coffey, a National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) specialist.
Now, farmers and Extension educators have an expansive new resource available to them in the Small Ruminant Toolbox. The toolbox is a collection of practical, proven materials covering a wide variety of topics, including pasture and herd management, marketing, pest management, quality of life and whole-farm sustainability.
Toolbox materials are free to access online or can be purchased on a USB flash drive at www.sare.org/ruminant-toolbox.
Coffey and a team of sheep and goat specialists created the toolbox through a 2008 Southern SARE grant, with limited distribution of the USB. Due to the toolbox's popularity, NCAT and SARE have now partnered to reissue the USB and post the materials online.
The toolbox includes guidance on how to structure a workshop, dozens of PowerPoint presentations, and other materials. Well-received courses such as the Tennessee Master Meat Goat Producer Program, a 978-page Small Ruminant Resource Manual and the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet are also included.
The 60-page Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet helps farmers adjust their practices to the changing realities of the marketplace and their farm. It is the centerpiece of the toolbox, and was a critical missing piece before the project started, Coffey says. "Although whole-farm planning is important for success, the topic is not typically covered in sheep and goat production workshops."
The toolbox can save farmers money. Guided by the toolbox, two on-farm demonstrations in Arkansas showed how to use forage brassicas as an alternative to feeding hay and supplements to cut down on costs. "We estimate that farmers saved $2 a head on average as a result of the on-farm demos. One farm in particular so far has saved over $3,000, and the potential is there to save up to $15,000," says University of Arkansas Extension Specialist Steve Jones, a project coordinator.